If you’re too young to legally drive, should you be allowed to marry?

Published: February 23, 2012
30% of all marriages in Pakistan involve children, most of them take place in Sindh.

30% of all marriages in Pakistan involve children, most of them take place in Sindh.


In Pakistan, almost 30 per cent of all marriages fall in the category of child marriages and most of them are taking place in Sindh – ironically as parents seek to protect their girls.

Early marriage is seen as a way for parents to ensure that their girls have a man to care for them, socially and financially. But what parents don’t realise is that early marriages actually render their daughters vulnerable to illness, poverty and gender inequality.

“When the government does not allow children below 18 years to drive, how can they allow girls younger than that to be married,” exclaimed Amna Akhsheed, who is the director of adolescent and women empowerment with Rahnuma-FPAP. This organisation and AusAID organized a workshop at the Marriott hotel on Wednesday.

Child marriage is defined as one below the age of 18 years, before a girl is physically, psychologically and physiologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities. Legally child marriages are prohibited under the Child Marriages Restraint Act (CMRA) of 1929 that declares the minimum age as 16 years. But the Shariah law sets the standard at puberty, that in most cases starts at the age of 12 to 13 years.

The punishment for child marriage is at the most one month in jail or a fine of Rs1,000, or both, which is hardly enough to deter the act.

Additionally, the conviction doesn’t even serve to nullify the marriage. “How can a girl who doesn’t even have any say in her marriage ask for a divorce or separation?”

Nabila Malick, the director of advocacy and donor liaison, said that child marriages have a direct impact on six out of eight Millennium Development Goals, the most important being the maternal mortality rate: 276 per 100,000 births in Pakistan.

Rahnuma-FPAP CEO Syed Kamal Shah pitched in to say that the common argument that we give is that it was Allah’s will if a woman dies in childbirth. “I ask what about Allah’s will for maternal mortality in those countries which have a zero rate? Does Allah only will the deaths of women here?”

Malick lamented that when a few hundred of people die because of dengue or spurious medicines, it becomes a national emergency, but no attention is given to this issue as a result of which a woman is dying every 20 minutes.

Giving the government’s perspective, MPA Humera Alwani, who was the guest of honour, said that an increase in population was the root cause of all our problems. “I have spent almost ten years in the Sindh Assembly but hardly ever heard any debate on this issue,” she said.

Alwani shared that the rich and poor alike shared the belief that marrying their daughters off early was the best solution to protect them from society. Alwani said that while the ministry of population welfare exists, its efforts are hardly making a dent.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2012.


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Reader Comments (34)

  • fawwad
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:56AM

    Unfortunately in our society paedophilia isn’t recognised as a crime by the people.Men demand marrying children,they have no shame in having physical relations with underage girls.This animalistic behaviour has not only societal approval but a lot of the mullahs also promote paedophilia by justifying it one way or another.so many times we’ve seen on tv the police breaking up marriages between underage girls and paedophile grooms where the mullah was giving it religious approval.this sick mentality of sleeping with children has to end.paedophiles are the scum of society,committing paedophilia under the disguise of marriage doesn’t make it any better.


  • jamshed khan
    Feb 23, 2012 - 11:01AM

    It is called paedophilia.Sex with a minor should not be treated as normal sex,it is sick and disgusting paedophilia but a lot of men in our society actively seek out girls below 18 to have intercourse with.paedophilia is rampant in our society but we’ve chosen to look the other way.


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 11:08AM

    the main reason for deaths is poverty not child marriage. In Pakistan a middle class man can’t afford PROPER treatment. Don’t try to mix up things, just to grind your own axe.


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 11:12AM

    If You get the proposal from some multi millionaire family then you will also be willing to marry.
    Everyone and Everything has a price and Everything is for sale….
    plus everyone has the desire to get their daughter settled.
    (dont take it personally)


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 11:15AM

    what about boys and girls who do masturbation just because they dont have a proper way fulfil their natural desire???
    SO you are trying to suggest that people should keep on doing masturbation and premarital sex and after that they can legally marriage.
    What about thousands of aborted children? How will you stop this?


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 11:17AM

    you should come forward with solutions, instead of just criticism.


  • HJ
    Feb 23, 2012 - 11:20AM

    I’m not advocating child marriage in any way – but if people as young as 11 as driving when the legal age is 18, what’s to stop people marrying so young?
    Our law enforcement is not good at all.


  • sadaf
    Feb 23, 2012 - 11:40AM

    I am glad to see that you have addressed a very important issue that poses a great challenge nowadays. I second Mr Shah’s comment about God’s will for other women who survive giving birth. There are similar comments to other issues that we make, conveniently covering our short comings behind religion. Basically, we are a nation that practices religion best suiting our social behavior. Most of us have failed to acknowledge our role of a responsible and caring parent. No wonder educated people are having 3-5 kids and neglecting the needs of a child at different stages. The easiest remedy to shrug off the responsibility of raising a child that has good morals and values, is to get them married at a very young age. It can be rated as a nefarious practice which adds to the misery and problems of a girl.
    The basic problem is that we have stopped thinking like a responsible/sensible human beings.


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 12:48PM

    I’d like to correct a misconception here: technically it is not pedophilia unless the child is prepubescent. For children who are past puberty (but still teenagers), it’s ephebophilia.


  • MyHeartSpeaks
    Feb 23, 2012 - 1:47PM

    ‘No attention is given to issue of women dying every 20 minutes’ Is it because of early marriage OR because of lack of health facilities (for which govt. is responsible). Who is responsible here: Govt or early marriage?

    I don’t see any significant correlation between maternal mortality and early marriage…..


  • Mard-e-Haq
    Feb 23, 2012 - 2:02PM

    Islam does not say anything about minimum driving or marriage age.


  • Observer
    Feb 23, 2012 - 2:25PM

    Unfair comparison. Driving is a privilege that you are given once you can assure the society that you will not jeopardize the lives of other people on road. While marriage is a personal matter and people, if desire, can get married and not affect the lives of general people.


  • Adbawany
    Feb 23, 2012 - 2:36PM

    If everything else is called liberalism, and freedom, shouldn’t this be left so too? It should rather be ‘forced’ than ‘allowed’.


  • Umer
    Feb 23, 2012 - 2:45PM

    before any muslim complains over here about this, i would like to point out that Islamic sharriyah says that it is permissable for men and women to marry when they hit puberty. =) cheers


  • Uzair
    Feb 23, 2012 - 3:11PM

    @Thirsty Crow: Wow, so what you are saying is that self-exploration (let’s call it that) is worse than paedohilia? The first is a very natural part of growing up, and is harmful to suppress, while on the second let’s be clear that a 50 (or 25 or 70) year old man having any kind of romantic or sexual relations with a 9 or 12 year old girl is totally NOT morally acceptable, since the child has no say in the matter, plus it is just plain utterly disgusting. Let’s call sex with a minor what it is, rape, and thus conclude that we should NOT allow adults to marry minors.

    What could be permissible, morally borderline ok but practically foolish since marriage is about responsibilities and personal choice, both of which require a measure of maturity, is for two teenagers of same age to marry (say one of age 15 and the other 16).


  • Stewie Griffin
    Feb 23, 2012 - 3:35PM

    I think the age to legally drive should be lowered to 16 like in North America, and the age to get married should be increased to 18 for girls.

    The age of consent should be 16 in Pakistan, not 14.


  • WHO
    Feb 23, 2012 - 3:51PM

    when a boy or a girl reach puberty they are ready for sexual activities and the things that follow, says nature. Other aspects like, social or financial apply later. if a girl marries after puberty that cant be termed as pedophilia, but yes its un-ethical for a 30+ guy to marry a 16 girl.


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 4:34PM

    What a poor analogy the author had used driving and marriage lol


  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Feb 23, 2012 - 5:15PM

    If an underage couple gets married, can the husband and wife enhance their age in CNIC so as to get the driving license?


  • Fida Shah
    Feb 23, 2012 - 5:16PM

    The age of girls should be not less than 16 years, if not 18 years, because she should have the sense to carry the child after playing sex.


  • Tallal
    Feb 23, 2012 - 5:25PM

    Islam compels us to marry widows and divorced epmen but not underage girls.


  • Azm Aftab
    Feb 23, 2012 - 6:05PM

    As much as I want to laud the author’s attempt to adress child marriages I have to address a few things before I do that.
    Firstly Samia, driving is a privilege and not a right, so the analogy is completely flawed. You are comparing apples and oranges! The principal difference between a right and privilege is that a right is applicable to all human beings without the need of any qualification or any particular skill set, for example, freedom of speech, religion, and thought are rights where as holding a govt office, driving, and employment are privileges.
    Secondly you factored in the mortality rate, I do agree that age is a factor but not the primary reason for the high mortality rate, the prime reasons for that are poor maternal care, poor prenatal care and lack of hygiene. You will have a high mortality rate where ever these conditions will prevail.
    Lastly I would like to commend you for bringing up an important issue but next time please argue the case on it’s merit :)Recommend

  • Feb 23, 2012 - 7:50PM

    If a woman does not have the physical or psychological maturity to be able to drive a car, it’s axiomatic that she does not have the physical or psychological maturity to raise a child.

    12-16 year old girls are easily pressured into these marriages, putting their own health as well as that of their babies at great risk. It’s dangerous and highly immoral..


  • Straight Fire
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:03PM

    If an underage girl can give birth that means she isn’t underage … You are not the one who decide what is under or over … The body created by God is enough to tell the fact


  • Head Shot
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:06PM

    @jamshed khan:
    How a girl less then 18 is can give birth then ?
    She isn’t declared minor or underage by her creator then who are you ?


  • jerseybb
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:15PM

    If a girl is 17 and has hit puberty 2-3 years ago and is getting married, it might be okay, however what makes it sick is that she is getting married to a 35 years old guy


  • Sara Iqbal
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:36PM

    I am 17 and I married the man of my dreams only last year.And i see literally no problem marrying early if the partner is good and understanding. Pregnancy can be delayed.
    In west, they lose virginity as soon as 12. Britney Spears did at 13, i guess. =P We wouldn’t like that happening over here, would we? The %age of teenage SINGLE moms in west is comparable to that in Asia. It’s a wholly personal matter. Though forcing the girl/boy into marriage is unacceptable at whatsoever age. Be it 16 or 26.


  • Nobody
    Feb 24, 2012 - 4:04AM

    I’m not 100% sure what the author is trying to say with that statement, but I THINK it might be a reference to the fact that at the ripe age of 12, 13, 14, etc, a girl’s body is not prepared for pregnancy/childbirth. While even older women have many complications and even simple complications that go untreated due to lack of facilities, the younger the girl, the likelier complications are so perhaps early marriage —> early pregnancy —-> more complications. At least that’s what I gathered.
    More to the point, nice piece. This issue needs much more attention than it currently seems to be given.


  • Feb 24, 2012 - 3:29PM

    Straight fire:

    “The body created by God is enough to tell the fact”

    The body created by God also has a foreskin, which we feel no moral hesitation in artificially circumcising. So why is the artificial regulation of a girl’s age of marriage be such an issue, when it’s for the noble task of decreasing the risk of physical or psychological complications?


  • SI
    Feb 24, 2012 - 4:55PM

    lol what a great analogy between foreskin of men and marriage at puberty for girls. How did the deuce did you come up with such smart a thought,


  • Ramanujam
    Feb 25, 2012 - 3:26AM

    To those Muslims who oppose this because of your Islamic law.
    Let me tell u that Child marriage was a common practice among Hindus too…In fact,they were married as young as 4 or 5 yrs and then allowed to copulate after they reached puberty
    Even Mahatma Gandhi got married when he was still a school student.

    But when we formed as an independent nation,we agreed that the minimum age of marriage for a girl is 18 and we strictly follow it (except in few underdeveloped villages).

    But your Mullahs somehow convinced Rajiv Gandhi,who for vote bank, allowed separate marriage laws for Muslims

    When Hindus could change their 6000 yr old custom,why cant Muslims change their 1400 yr customRecommend

  • Feb 26, 2012 - 4:38PM

    All those who are lamenting for obstetric complications of non-existent child moms can’t give a reference to a single research from a well reputed medical journal. Just because NGO aunties say something doesn’t mean that it is a scientific face.
    Give me a single reference. I challenge you guys including author.


  • Nobody
    Mar 2, 2012 - 9:32AM

    @Truth Exposed:
    Google “medical evidence of complications in young teenagers” or “complications of early pregnancy” and you’ll come up with a plethora of studies. I quickly read only a few (as there are so many!) and found there to be a higher risk of problem (you can read about specifics) as a result of early pregnancy, but many of the studies are extensive and include the results of tests based on different demographics among the girls/women as well as age. Feel free to peruse. Cheers!


  • Baba Ji
    Mar 3, 2012 - 2:24PM

    Child marriage is defined as one below the age of 18 years……….. Legally child marriages are prohibited under the Child Marriages Restraint Act (CMRA) of 1929 that declares the minimum age as 16 years. But the Shariah law sets the standard at puberty, that in most cases starts at the age of 12 to 13 years. – Author

    so which one are we following in Pakistan ?


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